Article Contributed by Bridgit Caitlin Murphy
More than 40 years after Atari burst onto the scene with the first-ever gaming console and its smash hit tennis-style game Pong, computer games have emerged as one of the biggest entertainment industries of all, with annual sales topping $60 billion in 2021.
Today’s gamers are accustomed to ultra-realistic, lifelike graphics and immersive gameplay that would have been unimaginable for Pong enthusiasts; today’s games offer a complete escape from reality while Pong was made of two lines and a dot.
Gaming has not said its final word, that is obvious to everyone. The VR/AR future of gaming leaves us all drooling in anticipation while the underlined technology is constantly evolving, not only with superior graphics and ultra-sophisticated gameplays, but also new business models to sustain interest and grow new markets.
So before we are all swallowed by the metaverse and disappear there forever, let’s remember how we got here, pay our respect to the founding fathers of modern gaming and peak ahead to where gaming is expanding to.
War in Space!
Perhaps the first recognized computer game to come into being was “Spacewar!”, created by MIT professor Steve Russell in 1962. Spacewar! Could only be played on a giant computer at the university, and it became very popular with the university’s small programming community in the mid-to-late 1960s. Later, the code for Spacewars! was shared and the game was recreated on many other computer systems. Yes – Russel actually open-sourced his creation, which was pretty cool and advanced for that era.
Image: Open Culture
The basic concept of Spacewar! was what led to the launch of the first-ever commercial arcade game, Computer Space, created by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney at Stanford University in 1971. The two came up with the revolutionary idea of building a dedicated, coin-operated machine on which to play the game, and in the process ended up founding a company called Atari. Later, they followed up on the success of Computer Space with the assistance of Allan Alcorn, creating the original table tennis game Pong, which was released in 1972 to great success.
Pong proved to be a legendary hit, winning over many fans due to its ultra basic but highly competitive gameplay, and ushering in a flood of other arcade games that launched over the next few years, not only from Atari but also other names such as Namco, Williams Electronics, Stern Electronics and an unknown Japanese company called Nintendo.
No Place Like Home for Gaming
It was around the same time that German video game inventor Ralph H. Baer came up with the Magnavox Odyssey, which has since been recognized as the world’s first video game console. The Odyssey console came with a single pre-loaded game. However, it was notably the first games machine that people could hook up to a television and play at home.
Atari was apparently very impressed by the Odyssey and the idea of people playing games at home (!), and very soon after launched its own console that came preloaded with the game Pong. In 1977 it followed up with the launch of its second console, the Atari 2600, which for the first time could play multiple different games. Titles were sold separately as cartridges, and the company also introduced more innovative joysticks. And just like that, the foundation for modern gaming as we know it – and that pretty much survived mostly intact until today – has been laid out.
The Atari 2600 ushered in a number of iconic video games, including the launch of Combat, a tank fighting simulator, in 1977, then Space Invaders in 1978, followed by Asteroids and Galaxian in 1979. Galaxian represented both the first rip-off and also the first evolution of gameplay, borrowing many of its concepts from Space Invaders but adding animated explosions and a scrolling starfield in the background, plus the first use of multi-colored sprites. The gameplay was more advanced too, with the alien ships being more agile and having more complex attack patterns.
Source: Den of Geek
In the early 1980s we saw the launch of Namco’s Pac-Man, the iconic action-maze-chase game that took the world by storm, followed by the first successful game franchise, Mario, who first appeared in Nintendo’s cult hit Donkey Kong.
The advance of video games took a dramatic step forward with the arrival of the Nintendo Entertainment System, marking the first time that Japan’s top games developer got into hardware. The NES, as it would become known, delivered significantly enhanced graphics, sound and color and enabled far more pleasurable gameplay experiences than previous consoles. It innovated in other ways too, introducing a laser light gun accessory called the NES Zapper that made it possible to shoot targets on the TV screen directly in dedicated games such as Duck Hunt.
The NES was a massive success and was followed by the launch of some of the most iconic video games of the 1980s, including hits such as Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda. Super Mario was considered to be revolutionary for its time, with side-scrolling gameplay that involved jumping on platforms and avoiding hazards and enemies, power-ups such as the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Starman, and extremely precise controls. Legend of Zelda meanwhile was the first game of its kind to offer a mix of puzzles, action, adventure/battle gameplay and exploration, with an enormous fantasy world that could take players weeks to explore.
Towards the end of the 1980s, Nintendo launched its second revolutionary gaming device with the GameBoy. With its interchangeable cartridges, powerful (for the time) processor and long-lasting battery, people could play high-quality games on the go for the first time. The GameBoy would go on to spawn numerous hit games, including the dangerously addictive Tetris, Final Fantasy and Mega Man 5, to name just a few.
As we entered the 1990s, superior console platforms such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and its rival platform, the Sega Genesis (also known as the Mega Drive) entered into the mainstream, bringing with them a new generation of popular games with more advanced gameplay and better graphics such as the Crash Bandicoot, Sonic the Hedgehog and the Street Fighter franchise.
When Gaming Became an Experience
PC gaming finally became a thing in the early 1990s as personal computers became more prevalent in people’s households. By 1994, it was estimated that around 27% of U.S. homes had a PC, and while most models were chiefly designed for work and to browse the early Web, many people were using them to play games.
Doom, arguably the first really successful 3D shooter game, launched on the PC in 1993 and was an instant success, bringing a level of more intense, thrilling gameplay than was ever thought possible. Doom has since been praised as the most important first-person shooting game ever made, and has been extremely influential on all subsequent shooter games, not to mention the industry in general. It was also the first shooting game to introduce multiplayer gameplay, which is now an integral component of the first-person shooter experience.
Just when it looked as if the PC might surpass consoles as the platform of choice for video games players, Sony went and turned everything on its head with the launch of its extremely powerful PlayStation console. The PlayStation was a big jump in graphics quality and processing, able to handle far more complex games at higher speeds, and it rapidly became a hot property and went on to sell in excess of 100 million units in the 1990s, introducing new games such as the Gran Tourismo, an extremely realistic racing game based on entirely new and close to reality game mechanics. The PlayStation also gave birth to titles such as Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, an entirely new breed of action/adventure style games that saw players immersed in virtual worlds and a compelling storyline in which they played the role of the central character.
In the mid-2000s we saw the arrival of newer and equally powerful consoles such as Microsoft’s Xbox and the Nintendo Wii, and with them more revolutionary titles such as Halo, Gears of War and Crackdown and the continuance of the “console war” that rages on to this day.
Since then, over the last decade we have seen the emergence of progressively more powerful PC and games console hardware, coupled with new games development engines like Unreal Engine and Unity. That has led to a new generation of epic games with incredible realism, such as Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and Fortnite, plus a wave of massively multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft.
And Then NFTs Arrived
While ‘traditional’ game developers continue to focus their efforts on increasingly realistic graphics and faster, more immersive gameplay, the arrival of blockchain technology and NFTs combined with the prospects of Web3 and the metaverse has led to the creation of a parallel gaming universe that allegedly hail an entirely new economic model for video games.
These days you can’t shoot a zombie without stumbling on a Play-to-Earn (P2E) reference, for better or worse. The concept of P2E is essentially a business model that runs on blockchain technology. It allows gamers to earn cryptocurrency or NFTs while playing the games.
One of the most successful P2E games thus far has been Axie Infinity, where some players have reportedly been able to earn thousands of dollars per month. That said, the actual game leaves a lot to be desired. The graphics wouldn’t look out of place on the original PlayStation console from the late 1990s, and the gameplay itself is just too simple for ‘real gamers’ to enjoy. It may well be possible to earn money playing Axie Infinity, but the gaming experience is less than satisfying.
Source: Axie Infinity
Can Blockchain Games Catch Up to the Industry?
It goes without saying that P2E games most likely won’t become much more than a niche segment – unless developers can combine the earnings potential with more exhilarating and enjoyable gameplay.
Luckily game developers have realized this. Banger Games recently launched a gaming hub that relies on blockchain to provide a P2E element, but its emphasis is mostly on the “PLAY” aspect of games. Its founders are video game enthusiasts themselves, “which is why we deeply identify with this sense of rejection towards the play-to-earn rules,” they explained in a blog post on Medium.
Banger Games’ first-ever title will presumably live up to its promise: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), part of the incredibly popular Counter Strike shoot-em-up franchise.
Banger Games isn’t alone in trying to bring more playable P2E games to market. In fact, there are dozens of titles set to arrive later in the year aiming to not only surpass Axie Infinity, but also interest the much wider audience of gamers. A promising title already launched is Blast Royale, which offers a slightly different take on the Battle Royale format popularized by Fortnite.
Developed by First Light Games, whose CEO has more than 20 years in game development, Blast Royale sees players face off against others in a classic Fortnite-style “last man standing” battle to the death. Players need to buy an NFT character to play the game, and can acquire further items in-game for free or by buying more NFTs. Throughout the match, players can pick up ammo, health packs, armor and other equipment, and collect items dropped by their ‘dead’ opponents, including NFT items, though these will return to their original owners after the match ends.
Source: Blast Royale
The popularity of today’s video games stems from the expansive genres of titles available. In the traditional gaming world there’s literally something for everyone, and that’s the way the P2E industry is headed too. Championship Manager fans will surely get to grips with Soccer Manager Elite in no time, though they’ll need to be prepared for some intense competition.
That’s because in Soccer Manager Elite there is but one world, full of human managers. There are only 300 clubs in the game and each club can only have one manager, so those out of work will instead have to take on the role of a player agent, who negotiates player’s contracts and wages, or a trader, who is able to buy, sell and hold shares in clubs and players.
The management gameplay is similar to Championship Manager, with the coach able to pick the team, establish the team’s style of play and micromanage tactics during the matches.
Source: Soccer Manager Elite
The P2E component of Soccer Manager Elite is quite clever, with ownership (including shares) of clubs and players represented by NFTs. There’s a fixed number of shares available for each club and each player, though shareholders can vote to dilute their shares by creating more of them, a way to raise funds for a financially distressed club, perhaps. Managers, agents and traders all earn Soccer Manager Coins, which are used to fund clubs, pay player’s wages and so on.
Horse racing wants in on the P2E action too. Silks allows players to buy NFTs that represent real-world thoroughbred racehorses so they can experience the thrill of owning, trading and training different horses and racing them in competitive stakes. It’s best described as a “racehorse management” game that reflects what happens in the real world. Each time a horse wins a race in reality, it will be reflected in the value of their NFT, while the owner gets to earn STT tokens they can use to purchase land, stables and avatars, which are required to own a horse.
Meanwhile, some developers are aiming to take on the likes of Axie Infinity directly by implementing enhanced gameplay into the traditional turn-based card battle game genre.
Arker: The Legend of Ohm offers a more engrossing storyline that takes place in the fictitious kingdom of Ohm, with the player’s objective being to reclaim the ancient realm by battling against evil opponents with their hero and his or her pet.
The game includes both solo and multiplayer aspects, allowing players to form clans and compete in player-vs-player matches, player-vs-environment challenges and even guild wars where it’s possible to engage in 10 vs 10 battles.
Source: Arker: The Legend of Ohm
As the P2E industry is fully aware that in order to grab more market share it will need to come up with more compelling gameplays and cover a wider range of genres, this new business model could well become a natural evolution of the video gaming world. Traditional gamers care more about gameplay than anything else, but given the choice of playing a game and earning money while at it, versus just paying, it’s not hard to see a newcomer like Blast Royale picking up many more fans.
The P2E concept is slowly but surely moving towards the idea of “Fun-to-Earn”, just the latest chapter in the ongoing evolution of a video game industry that gets better and better.